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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from John Williams to Alexander Martin
Williams, John, 1731-1799
June 27, 1782
Volume 16, Pages 345-347

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Hillsborough, 27th June, 1782.

Dear Sir:

We, last night, brought to a conclusion, after a very troublesome term, the Court of Sessions of the Peace, Oyer and Terminer, and the General Gaol Delivery held here the 17th inst., for the District of Hillsborough, and have pretty well delivered the jail by trying some and binding over to the Supreme Court the most exceptional characters and by enlisting into the Continental service, pursuant to your proclamation of the 25th ult., most of those less obnoxious.

During this term seven have been capitally convicted, to-wit: Samuel Poe, for Burglary; Thomas Ricketts, Meredith Edwards, Thomas Eastridge and Thomas Dark, for High Treason; William Duke and Thomas Hunt, for Horse Stealing.

And as I suppose some supplications may be made for mercy, I have thought proper to represent to your Excellency the true point of view, in which the several persons condemned, stood before the Court, the heinousness of their crimes and their moral characters in life, so that if any should be spared, you may be enabled to judge who are the less necessary victims of the policy of Law.

Thomas Dark, a Captain of Fanning’s, and one of his right hand men, is the principal person convicted. He has been very active and enterprising, and near as dangerous a person as Fanning himself, and from his proved inhumanity and cruelties in cutting, hacking and wounding his prisoners, had acquired among those of his own party the name of young Tarleton.

Thomas Ricketts, though indicted of treason only, it is hard to mention a crime of which he is not accused, and I have good reason to believe not wrongfully. Murder, house-burning, robbery, &c., are in the black list of his crimes, to which is added a general bad character.

Samuel Poe is one of eight who set out on the plan of robbery, and in one night broke open six different dwelling houses of men

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of property, and entered, sword in hand, and with guns and other arms, and put in fear all in the house, robbed of several hundred pounds, specie worth, of clothes, furniture, &c. Witness intended to prove the several charges, but being indicted of one, which being so clearly proved by creditable Witnesses, coupled with his own confession, it was thought needless to indict him on more.

N. B.—He is the only one of the gang taken except a young lad who appeared as a Witness.

Meredith Edwards and Thomas Eastridge were also indicted for Treason. They are both men who appeared to be popular among the Tories and very active, and men of Fanning’s gang, though generally kind and humane to the prisoners while in their custody, and seemed much to lament the fate of their particular neighbors whom they had taken with Governor Burke and express some uneasiness at seeing them in captivity. As to the general moral character of those two men, it seems to be pretty good, only great Tories—Eastridge from the commencement of the times.

Duke and Hunt were both indicted for stealing one horse. The circumstances were complicated, and from the whole of the evidence, I can’t help saying that there might be some doubt whether it ought not to have been considered rather as a Trespass than a Felony. Yet, after a very fair Trial, the Jury found the prisoners guilty of Felony, &c., though a little contrary to the expectation of the Court, and I really think if any person, convicted at the Term, have a claim to mercy, those two have the first. As to their moral characters, Duke’s is tinged, Hunt’s is bad, and probably might have been one cause of the Jury’s finding them guilty.

The Court considering the first three proper victims of policy and the great difficulty there is of keeping them safe in jail, has ordered their execution on Friday, the first of February, only giving so much time as not to shut the door of mercy against them.

The day of execution for the four latter is fixed to Friday, the first day of March next, and as they have some hopes of obtaining a pardon on condition of their enlisting into the service, I believe there will not be much danger of their escaping.

At this Court the Attorney-General did not attend, and the Court got the favor of Colonel Alfred Moore to officiate as Atto. for the State, and without whose assistance, which the Court experienced

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in a very essential manner, they could not have carried on the business of the Court, and as he gave up all advantages of a Court, which he might have made very beneficial, I make no doubt that the General Assembly will give it proper consideration.

For my own part, I have no great encouragement to ask favors of the public, yet, Sir, I shall be obliged to you to give a hint to the General Assembly that it is necessary to point out some way of ascertaining the depreciation of the small pittance granted to judges, &c., and some way for the payment of it. The present collection, I believe, is chiefly in Certificates and that is a currency which will not pass for expences.

I have the Honor to be,
Dear Sir,
Your Most Obedient,
Humble Servant,